Business Roundtable CEOs, Higher Education Leaders Discuss How to Build An Ever-Ready Workforce

March 15, 2024

During last week’s CEO Workforce Forum, Business Roundtable CEOs, policymakers and thought leaders explored how public policies and private sector initiatives help ensure workers have the skills they need to thrive and adapt in a rapidly-changing economy. 

Business Roundtable Education and Workforce Committee Chair Scott Kirby, Chief Executive Officer of United Airlines, and United Airlines apprentice Cye Williams kicked off the event: 

Scott Kirby: 

“To me, workforce development is about giving people the right skills. It's about all the things that we're doing to give them the right training and apprenticeship programs. And all the things that we can do to help our companies, but it's also about creating a stronger America.”

Cye Williams:

“Since starting my apprenticeship, I’ve been able to learn so much in an environment where people want you to thrive. United has specifically created a space for technology apprentices to get acclimated in this new environment. It’s called Innovate. The best thing about Innovate is the community. There are people with a variety of backgrounds, and we get to come together and share our experiences.”

On Reimagining Postsecondary Pathways:

Brendan Bechtel, Chairman and CEO, Bechtel:

“We’re partnering with local and state community and technical colleges. … We’ve created our own apprenticeship program. … We’ve started a commercial driver’s license training class. … We’re actually even going further upstream, and we’re beginning to recruit students in high school to let them know that this will be available to them right out of high school. The last thing I’ll just say that we’re really proud of, which I think the industry could do more of, is apprenticeship readiness programs with the unions.” 

Chris Kastner, President and CEO, HII:

“Our hallmark program is in Newport News, Virginia, and we call that our leadership development pipeline. … The great news is 80% of apprentices that graduate from that Newport News program are with us after 10 years, and they represent 50% of my production leadership. So, apprenticeship programs work as indicated.”  

Juan Salgado, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago:

“One of the things that’s working is companies are looking to community colleges as a talent solution, as a source of people with incredible capacity.” 

Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., President, Alabama State University:

“We’re constantly retooling our programs to make sure that the students have the skills and preparation needed for your human resource needs. I just think working together and really drilling down can scale it up and being intentional about that relationship. … I think the more that we can get in front of our young people … I think that helps to fill the gap as they get ready to come into the workforce.”

On Untapped Talent: Expanding Workforce Opportunities:

Hal Lawton, President and CEO, Tractor Supply Company:

“We are really much on that frontline [of the] workforce and it’s all about retention and development of our workforce. … We spent a lot of time early on onboarding our team members, making them successful in the culture and in the business, working on knowledge, working on selling skills. And then, once they’ve spent six months or a year inside the company, we start spending a lot of time on what the various career path options for them are.”  

Tamara L. Lundgren, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Radius Recycling:

“[‘Skills-first’] means creating a framework where you can analytically assess the skills needed for a particular job and you can agnostically assess the characteristics, the attributes, the qualifications of an individual who is applying for that position and assess their potential to perform successfully.”

Andrew J. McMahon, Chief Executive Officer and President, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America: 

“It’s each of our company’s duty and obligation to fill that [jobs] pipeline. So how are we doing that? One, bring the barriers down for entry and those barriers being, education, degrees. … Secondly, tapping into pools and sources of talent that we may not have tapped into in the past. … Third is development … how are we internally both developing people for these skill sets and their marketability and capabilities in and outside the company, but how are we working with educational partners and institutions and non-profits to help create a curriculum and a certification program to bring some of those skills.”

Joe Ucuzoglu, Global Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte, closed the event by stressing the importance of collaboration: 

“You see Business Roundtable companies rallying around the notion that talent is still at the core. The key ingredient to taking advantage of each of these new technologies is bringing in the next generation of great talent. Investing, upskilling, reskilling, making certain we have diverse career pathways… Ultimately, it’s going to take us all working together. This is about academia, the public sector and government, and this is about the corporate community.” 

Discussions during the CEO Workforce Forum reinforced the need for legislation to reform America’s workforce development system. Congressional passage of the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act and A Stronger Workforce for America Act would help build the ever-ready workforce the U.S. needs and increase economic opportunity for more Americans.

To learn more about Business Roundtable’s workforce development policy priorities, click here. For more on Roundtable member companies’ efforts to build an ever-ready workforce, click here